Briwax / Howard restor-a-finish to "refinish" oak cabinets?

luvofbeauty75May 20, 2013

Hi! I'm new on this forum. I have some 80s medium "orangey" oak kitchen cabinets, bath vanities and rails, fireplace mantle etc. throughout the whole house that I'd like to "refinish". But no, I don't have the money and time to actually replace/ paint/ restain them. So I found out these 2 products- briwax and howard restor-a-finish.

I guess these two products can help "renew" my cabinets etc. and make them shine, hide the watermark/ imperfections and possible tone down the "orangey"/ darken the cabinets a little bit ?

But after a bit of research, I still can't decide which one is better, or which color. I'm thinking of a darker color like Dark Brown (or Walnut) or Ebony but I'm worried it will just exerggerate the wood grain but not darken the cabinets. Do you have any suggestions or any experience on using these 2 products? Also, any suggestions on how to prep the cabinets?

Thanks in advance for your help!

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Don't be afraid of the darker colors. I use them on my cabinets. If there is a finish, they won't absorb. That said, my finish is off and I have to keep using Howard's... It's a temporary fix that doesn't absorb in any furniture with a finish. It will clean though.

I only use Breewax on antique ornamentals that I want to stay just the way they are. Would not want to cause more problems with my cabinets. It is heat sensitive.

Just my experience. I could be using the stuff wrong.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 1:07AM
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Thanks for your reply! Temp fix is fine for me... I'll be contented seeing my cabinets clean and a little more appealing to my eyes with slight work and money :)

I read somewhere that these products would enhance the wood grain w/o darken, that's why I was hesitated. I've asked somewhere else but no one could really answer my question about this. I'm glad to hear that at least it won't be a big problem if I use a darker color.

Now I'm leaning more towards the Briwax. It just seems to me that it might be easier to apply without making a big mess.

If anyone else has experience on using these 2 products, please do share. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 11:55AM
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We recently added granite counter tops and new appliances to our kitchen, which also has the oak cabinets. Our cabinets are a bit over 20 years old and still looked pretty good, but were worn in some areas. DH cleaned them thoroughly, then carefully rubbed a medium brown stain over the top of all of them. They took a few days to dry, but we already had the kitchen torn up, so it didn't matter. Once dry, he covered them with a satin water-based urethane recommended by our local paint store. (He used water-based because of my asthma.) I couldn't believe the difference, and I'm so pleased with the results. I will admit that I was very concerned when he proposed doing this, but it all worked out quite well. Whatever you decide to do, try to find an inconspicous place to start to test it out.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 12:04PM
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Thanks for your reply! I believe that wood stain on the cabinets would yield a more permanent result. Of course that would be nice. But it seems there might be more work involved? Plus both DH and I are not handy, and with a baby at home, I just can't spend too much time on this project :(.

However, it'd be nice to hear that we don't have to tear down all kitchen cabinets to make it look nice! Isn't this better to our environment too? :)

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 12:33PM
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You can revive your cabinets and should take your time deciding what to do.
Briwax is a brand name and they do carry many products, even a cleaner.
Restore-a-finish is very toxic and should be used with fans and cross ventilation and
your child should not be near it at all. (those fragile growing lungs)
Even best to take the cabinet fronts outside to refinish...
You could also just remove one front and test on the inside surface a product to see
how it will look and work. Cabinets from that era may have a finish that needs a bit of a
stripper first, then a stain of your choice. The 'restore' comes in stain shades and a darker, like walnut, would help remove or balance out the red/orange tone. Just testing one will give you the confidence to take your time and 'restore' at a later date.
Read the labels is not difficult.
A wax finish is not the best finish surface in a kitchen. Not easy to wipe down and clean.
Like mentioned above, a satin h2o poly might be a way to go. Your husband should take a cabinet door into your local hardware store and find someone to assist him in what to use. Often someone will have a good idea seeing the cabinet in person to determine the best product. Just need a screw driver to remove.

Here is a link that might be useful: briwax

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 3:51PM
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luv, I didn't do the work, but I can tell you what I observed. First, as I mentioned, I was really worried it would mess up our cabinets. However, there didn't seem to be much of a protective coating left on our cabinets, so they all seemed to absorb the stain quite evenly.

We have what I could consider a medium-size kitchen, and it took DH 4 or 5 hours to initially apply stain to the cabinets (doors, frames, everything). He just took a lint-free cloth, dipped it into the stain, and rubbed it on. He took his time with each one, making sure to covery the whole surface and rubbing it in well. I would estimate that it took 3, or maybe 4 days to dry completely. He took the drawers out to the garage, but the cabinet doors he stained in place He stained them after dinner, and the next morning he carefully opened each of the doors slightly to make sure they didn't stick to the frames. He did this by taking a clean paper towel and gently opening by lightly pulling them open at the bottom edge. If I needed to access something (rarely) in a cabinet, I used a paper towel and held it under the bottom edge of the cabinet, touching as little of the edge as possible, and pulled it open further. By 24-36 hours after staining I don't think anything came off on the paper towel, and not much on the first day. However, they did seem a bit sticky/tacky for a few days, but we just left them alone.

Once totally dry, he applied the urethane protective coat. I think he used a clean, disposable sponge paint brush, but I'll have to ask. I also think he did two coats, but, again, I need to confirm that. The urethane dried very quickly.

We chose a color close to the original color, maybe just slightly darker, so the color didn't change much. It's still golden oak, although I think they now look more like a golden BROWN oak---it took away some of the yellow tones.

That's all I can think of for now. I hope it helps.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 5:58PM
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Thanks for your reply sleevendog!

Yeah I've read that the Howard restor-a-finish has strong smell when applying, so this is also one of the reasons I'm a little hesitated.

I know that Briwax is a brand and I read some reviews that it seems to be a good brand. I also read on their website that this product can be used on kitchen cabinets. And there is a hint of color. That is why I'm interested. But again, I'm not sure if it'll really work well on the oak cabinets.

Btw, I'd also like to take my time to "clean up" my cabinets throughout the house :). I may try to use it in some areas other than the kitchen first.

Any more ideas anyone?

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 6:02PM
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What about General Finishes gel stain? It's certainly covering more than Restore-a-Finish, but it's really easy to use with very good-looking results. Do a search online for projects and directions. Many people use Java, which is quite dark, but there are lighter finishes, too.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 6:47PM
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Thanks for your sharing! That doesn't seem too bad. How did your DH clean the cabinets before starting to stain them?


I just took a look of the GF gel stain. It seems like a great product! The problem is, we must sand the cabinets before applying the stain right? My DH told me he doesn't want to do the sanding/ stripping...

This post was edited by luvofbeauty75 on Tue, May 21, 13 at 19:39

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 7:38PM
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No, the beauty is that you don't have to sand! The first time I used it, I freaked out because after the first coat, my cabinet looked all blotchy. Second coat, it looked great.
It's very forgiving because you just wipe it on with a cloth or use a foam brush. You don't have to worry about brush marks. Do a search on google with gel stain celticmom and garden web, and you should find her instructions.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 8:34PM
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luv, He just used a citrus-based (orange something) cleaner. Our cabinets were in good condition structurally, and they didn't look terrible, but we had a few places where they showed wear---one was near the sink, where I think water probably wore away at the finish. After 20+ years, I assume that whatever protective surface might have been put on the cabinets must have worn off, because the stain definitely did sink in. He applied the stain as you normally would---rubbing on a small amount, then rubbing off any excess.

If you decide to try this, I would definitely test it first in an inconspicuous spot, or maybe even on a cabinet elsewhere in the house (especially useful if they used the same cabinets there as the ones in the kitchen). DH tested ours before committing to doing all the cabinets, and it seemed to work fine. The final urethane coat is important, too, as it is what gave the cabinets a finished look and, I presume, will protect the cabinets. I was honestly amazed that it worked. I really thought we'd have to sand and restain.

I don't know if this method will work for all wood cabinets, but it turned out great for us. We did not try to darken our cabinets significantly, as I did not want dark cabinets in my kitchen, so if you are trying to do something to hide the fact that you have oak cabinets, it might not be satisfactory for you. We still have golden oak, the grain still stands out, but it looks much better.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 8:35PM
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Sorry, it's celticmoon.Lots of advice on General Finishes gel stain out there.

Also, recent thread with pictures:

Here is a link that might be useful: directions for GF gel stain

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 8:43PM
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I used the General Finishes Gel stain ... thoroughly cleaned the doors outside with soap and water first, then with steel wool and mineral spirits to make sure the soap was gone. Then I wiped on a light coat of the gel stain (I wanted to refresh walnut, not hide oak like Moon did).

The frames were cleaned and stained the same way.

I was using a mix of 1/3 Georgian Cherry - really RED brown - and 2/3 Java to get a dark reddish brown. Their Antique Walnut is a good medium brown, and you can blend in some Java to deepen it.

Wipe it on, let it dry ... wipe on a coat of the gel topcoat and it's done. You can go slightly to muchly darker brown easily.

It has a mild varnish-like odor, not nearly as bad as "Restore A Finish".

Do NOT use the Minwax gel ... it doesn't spread as well

Here is a link that might be useful: Gel Stain

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 7:50AM
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FWIW, I have used a lot of Howard's products with good results. Especially the Feed-n-Wax which is amazing. You might perhaps try that first? It's so easy to use -- kind a deep conditioner for wood. You could pre-treat water stains using the Heloise toothpaste trick. (link)

F&W will darken the wood a little, definitely help with water rings, and just give it a luster. Again, not a permanent fix but something to reapply in about 6 months, or that has been my experience on furniture. I do not think using F&W would preclude advancing to the other techniques if results were unsatisfactory.

For something more dramatic, yes, I have often used Restore-A-Finish on oak and mahogany with quite good results. The smell does not bother me. I run my HVAC fans and throw open the house. I can't compare it to gel stain or anything else, having not used them. Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Heloise's Top Ten

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 10:11AM
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Thanks for ALL your replies! The GF gel stain seems great! Esp. without sanding and the strong smell. I'm tempted to try. But I wonder if the finish will last if we only need to clean the cabinets prior to that? You know I've no experience in doing this at all and I don't want to make things worse. Although I DO have LOTS of oak cabinets etc. (kitchen cabinets, vanities, hallway cabinets, fire place mantle, railings and even front door!) throughout the house for me to try on first. :D

So I'll do a bit more research on this first. Seems like the steps are clean + mineral spirits (haven't used this before?) + 1st coat stain + 2nd coat stain?

btw, I do like darker color cabinets, but Java might be too dark for my small kitchen, thinking maybe antique walnut?

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 12:15PM
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